Tales of the unexpected: the UK’s surprise news boom | Short stories



BBefore the pandemic, Deborah Yewande Bankole followed what she describes as a “regular diet of news”. She enjoyed researching up-and-coming writers and admired the work of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Julia Armfield and Danielle Evans, but hadn’t considered writing one.

So during lockdown, when she quit her job as a creative producer, she found herself with time to sit down and write, and was surprised when what materialized was her own first short story. .

Less than two years later, she took a six-month writing course with independent publisher Dahlia Books, received mentorship from word factory, the national short story organization, with author Toby Litt and hopes to publish a short story soon. “Short story writing lets you do things in literature in different ways that long-form writing might not,” she said.

The 31-year-old from London was one of many to try his hand at writing short stories during lockdown as the art form enjoys growing popularity. The Dublin-based literary magazine The stinging flywhose previous editors have included author Sally Rooney, said submissions have increased 100% over the past two to three years, while subscriptions have increased 50% during the pandemic (although he has lost physical sales to closed bookstores).

Such is the apparent appetite for news that a new independent press devoted entirely to them – believed to be the first of its kind in the UK – is due to launch in March. The first publication of Scratch Books will be Reverse engineeringa collection of seven short stories by authors including Irenosen Okojie, Sarah Hall and Mahreen Sohail.

Founder Tom Conaghan said today’s “strange fragmented times” are ripe for news: “There’s an appetite for it. Life is unraveling and the news has the potential to reflect it more than anything. »

Meanwhile, he said a new generation of short story writers comparable to greats like Alice Munro, who announced her retirement in 2013 shortly before winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the late Flannery O’Connor is coming. Among the key characters, he cites Okojie, Ben Pester, Wendy Erskine and Nicholas Royle.

Through Scratch, he wants to democratize the news, which, he admits, “may have become a bit exclusive”. He hopes to one day make short stories so accessible that they will be readily available in supermarkets.

Royle, who in addition to writing short stories and novels edits the annual review Best British Short Stories and runs Nightjar Press, said the news is finally getting the profile it “long deserved.”

Between 1890 and the First World War there were dozens of magazines and newspapers publishing news in Britain, but now there are very few. Royle wants to see more magazines supporting the news in the same way as publications such as the New Yorker, which regularly releases short fiction films, still do so in the United States. “We just don’t do that [in the UK]. We have magazines that could do it and don’t, so it’s disappointing.

Deborah Yewande Bankole started writing short stories during lockdown.

Some have attributed the rise in popularity to a shortened attention span, but Royle disagrees. He said, “A good short story requires focus and it is the most amazing example of the story coming close to the writer and the reader. There is this great intimacy.

He said independent publishers such as Salt Publishing, Comma Press and Nightjar Press, and awards such as the Sunday time Short Story Prize, BBC National Short Story Prize, Manchester Fiction Prize and youhe Edge Hill short story award, the winner of which was to be announced on Saturday evening, played a key role.

Declan Meade, editor and publisher of The stinging fly, said the momentum had been building for some time. “Writers feed off the energy that’s there for them in the short story and recognize the potential in it and you can see that in the variety of the form itself.”

Ireland’s storytelling scene, he said, has been helped by increased funding from the country’s Arts Council during the pandemic, with new literary magazines being launched all the time.

Lagos-based Chimeka Garricks, author of A Broken People's Playlist.
Lagos-based Chimeka Garricks stresses the importance of online journals in giving writers a platform to publish their work. Photography: Masobe Books

When The stinging fly launched its own press in 2005, the writers struggled to get their first storybook published. But now one of the most positive signs, Meade said, is that short story collections are increasingly being published by big players such as Bloomsbury and Picador. But, he adds, there is always a “pecking order,” with authors usually expected to promise to produce a novel soon after. During the lockdown, the magazine had to bring in extra readers to peruse all the submissions as people with long-standing writing aspirations found the time to do so.

“I don’t know if the pandemic is going to tip it in favor of the new once and for all…but it would be nice if that happened,” he says.

Cathy Galvin, journalist, poet and founder of Word Factory and the Sunday time news price, said the form’s current health has taken about 15 years: “There’s a very dynamic, diverse, and powerful series of voices that are coming through in the form of the news and being heard and doing a difference, and that is why the form of the short story is alive, because the writing is alive and the writing is rooted in real experience.

Unlike some parts of the book industry, print sales of short stories have remained flat during the pandemic in the UK, according to Nielsen BookData, with sales for 2021 from mid-March to year-end of £4.1m (the best seller was first person singular by Haruki Murakami followed by Jo Nesbø The man of jealousy). But that does not include news accessible through online platforms, which have played an important role for readers and writers around the world.

Chimeka Garricks, Lagos-based short story author A Broken People’s Reading Listsaid that online journals are an essential part of the news ecosystem – to help writers gauge interest and gain an audience and for greater accessibility to readers: “They give writers a platform form to publish their work, even if it is a work in progress.”

So what are the prospects for the news? Paul Baggaley, editor of mainstream adult publishing at Bloomsbury, said UK publishers are increasingly seeing new formats and genres such as autobiographical fiction and essay collections as commercially viable, which they wouldn’t have done before, and that, he says, bodes well for the news. Whereas in the past an editor might have “kindly tried to persuade an author not to write stories”, now, he said, “that’s a thing of the past”.

Citing as an example Alan Moore, author of watchmen comic series and three women Author Lisa Taddeo, who have both published short story collections, said: “Once you have that position, that reputation, and that fanbase, they’ll follow you for everything.”

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